Virgil Zwicker is a man that exemplifies why the rough sport of MMA is good for our world. It’s one of the major things that has kept him from being just another wandering trouble maker, which is just as good for the potential people on the receiving end of it as it is for him.

Long before Zwicker was carrying a new contract to enter Bellator as a light heavyweight, he was a “rezdog,” a young man from the Kumeyaay-Ipai Native-American tribe growing up in poverty on a reservation in California. That’s where he earned the nickname.

“From being on the reservation and just being a vicious guy,” Zwicker explained his nickname to The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “Most guys on the reservation are called ‘rezdogs.’ My name, it speaks and stands for most guys on the rez. I do it as part of my culture.”

From his humble beginning, he mostly found trouble, getting into fights and bouncing in and out of incarceration. It continued for years as though he was destined to be nothing more than a product of a rough environment. But that started to change when he began competing in MMA because a few of his friends were doing it and he wanted to try too. Fast-forward to 2010 and Zwicker was a Strikeforce fighter and a father of two children, two reasons that made life worth living the right way.

Zwicker (L) connects with a left hand (Esther Lin/Strikeforce)

It seems like it was so long ago already since Strikeforce was a major player on the MMA landscape. That’s where Zwicker left off his MMA career, with two losses and a win between 2010 and 2012. He wasn’t as active as he would have liked to be in that time period, but it might have worked out for the best since the Native-American was harboring blood clots in his brain that could have caused much greater problems than not being able to fight regularly to pay the bills.

Now, with those issues in the past, Zwicker has found himself employed by Bellator MMA. He’s banking on the prospect of participating in multiple fights by making his way into one of the promotion’s tournaments. Zwicker is set to make his debut at Bellator 99 on Friday, Sept. 13.

“It’s a long-term contract,” he explained of the Bellator deal. “First fight is going to be just an undercard, and the next one will probably be on a tournament, depending on my performance for this next one. So I’m excited about it.”

Picking up wins in Bellator will obviously be very important for Zwicker if he is to achieve the goal of fighting regularly. However, unlike during his time in Strikeforce, Zwicker has busied himself by competing in other martial arts disciplines. He made his professional debut in Muay Thai against Sergio Pique at WCK Muay Thai’s “Bad to the Bone” in April.

The fight was a split decision loss for Zwicker, but it is a loss that he doesn’t accept as totally legitimate, so there’s unfinished business that he feels is still there. Even though he’s sporting a new contract in MMA competition, Zwicker plans on balancing his time in Bellator with professional kickboxing bouts.

“I’m definitely going to be doing both of them,” Zwicker clarified. “My last Muay Thai fight, I fought for the WCK world championship and I won the fight, I just got robbed on the decision, basically, because of the inaccuracy from the referee. I dropped the guy three times and twice he helped the guy up. So it’s one of those things that happens in the sport of fighting. For me, I think I had never had as much fun fighting—especially with Muay Thai—and now with the MMA thing, I’m looking to balance both of them in my career.”

According to Zwicker, the rematch is in the works and he is itching to continue his time in pure striking competition. But for the immediate future, he has a Bellator debut against Nick Moghaddam. The fight marks his return to the cage since May of last year.

Zwicker has competed as a smaller, yet quicker, heavyweight for most of his MMA career, but has found himself better adjusted to 205 pounds as of late.

“I’m very anxious to see myself perform. I’ve been on a diet about seven weeks now. My weight’s been down. I’m walking around about 215, and I’m hungry,” he said.

Welcoming him into his new surroundings is fellow Bellator newcomer Moghaddam, a submission specialist who owns all of his wins by way of stoppage. Zwicker would prefer a stand-up battle for his introduction to Bellator’s audience and believes he knows what to expect from his opponent.

“I’m going to be looking to knock his head off,” said the Team Quest representative. “He’s a submission guy; they don’t like being hit. They’re scared to exchange. I go up against some of the best black belts that we have here every day, so I’m not worried about anything he’s got as far as submissions. That’s what I’ve been doing. I just don’t think he can stop my arsenal.”

In preparation, Zwicker has worked with teammates like TUF 7 finalist Jesse Taylor, who he says has “some of the best wrestling in MMA,” and fellow Strikeforce vet Ovince St. Preux to help him gauge the shots that Moghaddam might throw at him.

Zwicker (Alchemist MMA)

Other than a submission pedigree, Zwicker doesn’t see much else that Moghaddam can bring to the table. In fact, Zwicker took a swipe at the self-professed striking ability of his upcoming opponent.

“Very lazy. If he’s self-taught, it shows,” Zwicker said of Moghaddam’s Muay Thai skills. “He doesn’t have anywhere near the technique I have. And I’m not the most technical fighter, but I know what I’m capable of doing, and I know that I’m more excited to get in there and exchange and see how hard he hits and see what kind of style he has. Because I know as soon as I hit him, he’s going to try to shoot on me.”

For better or worse, Zwicker prefers a stand-up war. From looking at his Strikeforce fights, you can see his willingness to wade right through heavy shots to come straight for his challenger. Against his last opponent, Guto Inocente, Zwicker ate a nasty head kick early in the fight, but wouldn’t go away, nor would he show signs of being deterred by any of the other big shots he took in the final two rounds. Eventually, a fighter gets tired from throwing so much at a challenger. It becomes equally disheartening when they won’t go down with everything they’ve had thrown at them, but they actually keep coming for more.

That’s the kind of heart that Zwicker displays.

He may take a lot of punishment, but that’s also how he puts fear into his enemies. He’s able to rally back even after receiving so much damage. Even the powerful Lavar Johnson couldn’t turn Zwicker’s lights out. Zwicker’s body would have to collapse before he’d ever show signs of giving up.

It’s a kind of toughness that opponents are going to have to be prepared to deal with. We should be thankful that MMA has given him a home to practice those talents rather than him being a terminator-like ruffian roaming the streets.

At the end of the day, Zwicker puts on the kind of fights that he’d like to watch. He feels that the people at Bellator appreciate that more than the play-it-safe approach some might say you’re more apt to find in Zuffa fighters.

“I mean, everybody walks on eggshells over there,” he explained. “Even when I was in Strikeforce, they basically made that a proven fact that if you have a boring fight there’s a chance you could get cut. So, most people are scared to lose, so they do what’s necessary to win, which is sometimes the boring thing. And sometimes it just doesn’t even make sense to go out there and fight that way. Watch any of the last Bellator fights, people are getting their heads knocked off on a daily basis, just murdering each other. I’m excited for that.”

The thought of point fighting or running the clock down while holding a dominant position in order to earn a win rather than putting on an exciting fight and going for the kill is a concept that Zwicker doesn’t accept. For him, it goes back to the hard-nosed fighting style he learned growing up.

“I’m a born fighter out in the streets,” he said. “I was raised in warfare. Boring fights—nobody wants to see that. We want to see excitement. I like to think that’s not for me. I’d rather see somebody go out there and go for the kill.”

That kill-or-be-killed style in the cage is one of the few things you’ll see Zwicker holding onto when it comes to his past. A rough life with a history of trouble is something that defined Zwicker, but it’s not what gives him purpose. It is his wife and children that led him into adulthood and a life of positivity. That and a busy schedule in the gym.

“For me, it’s been my family and children, my wife, and the schedule we keep up in the gym, two or three times [a day],” Zwicker explained. “You don’t have time to hang around the bars, or hanging around your friends doing nonsense things when you know you don’t have time for that. I don’t have time to make any more problems for myself. I guess I’m just really lucky that because of my family and because of MMA—because of what a grueling sport it is—I don’t have time for anything else.

“Before then, I didn’t have a care in the world. I had no purpose, really caring about myself or anyone else around me. I was out doing destructive things [with] destructive people, just putting myself in stupid situations. Now I’m on the opposite side and I want to help young kids grow and see that I’ve been there, done that, and help some of these young men and women on the reservation to have an inspiration that, yeah, we can get in trouble and it’s okay to make mistakes—it’s how we learn from them.”

Virgil would like to thank his close supporters, his family and friends, and JT White Construction Company. Follow Zwicker on Twitter: @virgilzwicker

Top Photo: Virgil Zwicker (Alchemist MMA)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.